Garri Owen (1936-2017)


Garri Owen (21/11/1936-20/01/2017)

It is with much sadness and honour that I compile this tribute to Garri Owen, who died in January 2017 (his 80th Birthday was in November 2016). He was born and brought up in Glan Conwy, North Wales, with Welsh being his first language. He attended Aberystwyth University, reading geography and later became a lecturer at Woolwich, Kent. He was a big soccer fan, supporting and playing in his “youth” before joining Saxons OC. Upon his return to his beloved Wales after retiring, he and Julie Fletcher (his partner) set up home in Leighton, Welshpool. When attending a funeral a few years ago we were sitting behind Garri and I soon realised what a lovely singing voice he had – he could easily have been in a local Côr Meibion!

It was not long before he identified a “gap in the market”, i.e. there was no “O” Club in Mid Wales - ERYRI and ODR in the North, SWOC, SPLOT, SBOC, Sarn Helen and TROT in the South. Following a meeting at Welshpool, Powys OC (POW) was formed with a small membership of Garri and Julie, Nev and Mary Roberts, Dave Ormerod, Andrea and myself. Later such stars as David Pal, Anne and Richard Wilson, Mike Kay and Robert Griffiths joined before the further expansion westward in to Ceredigion.

David Pal expands on this later in my article with sentiments that I endorse whole heartedly, but one of my first recollections of Garri’s vision and wisdom was the introduction of the POWWOW. This was a weekend event with a Colour Coded event taking place on the Saturday and a Badge event (now known as a Regional event) on the Sunday taking place early in September when the Fixture list was “quiet” following the likes of the White Rose Bank Holiday week-end and before the Caddihoe Chase. Bearing in mind how few in numbers we were (less than 10!!) we put on the Colour Coded at Nant Yr Arian on the Saturday followed by the Badge at Croes Y Forwyn (near Lake Vyrnwy) on the Sunday! Naturally, the venues would change each year. We were shattered by the end of a very successful weekend having helped and competed. When I look back I don’t know how we managed it all.

Garri was Chairman of the Club for awhile and would regularly be late for a Club meeting. We used to laugh it off, so years later (after he had retired from “O”, two hip replacements later and one of which was not successful) when we arranged to meet up for lunch I would always say 10 minutes earlier than the actual to allow for his time-keeping! Not only was he Chairman, he would Organise, Plan and as a BO Controller would pop over the border to Control other club’s events. He also persuaded me, along with several other POW members, to do the BO Coaching Course at Club Level. He and I also mapped several Powys Schools, pre-OCAD black and white maps. Needless to say, that I learnt a lot.

Below are some of the comments that fellow orienteers have made about Garri that speak for themselves.

Gabriella Walsh, MWOC Chairman…….I do remember Garri planning a "brutal" event at Nant yr Arian but am sorry I didn't really have a chance to get to know him. I am very thankful for him founding POW and giving us all the opportunity to enjoy the fantastic sport of orienteering close(ish!) to home.

Robert Griffiths, MWOC Events Secretary (and currently in New Zealand)……..Garri always seemed to be enthusiastic about orienteering and was keen to put Mid Wales on the map. He had the vision of large events taking place in the area. He worked hard to get permissions and events such as JK98 and Croeso off the ground. His own technical ability shone through at times. I remember an event at Planta Fawr and Foel Offrwm, near Dolgellau where several of us were hunting around on the hillside for a fiendishly hidden control. Garri hobbled up and went straight to the control, to put us all to shame!

Clive Thomas, MWOC Treasurer…….I remember Garri well from when I first joined POW, including a memorable day spent carrying out stiles for a forthcoming event.  As well as the fact that I didn’t have a clue where I was all day (no change there then!), To this day, I still don’t know where I was (!) but Garri was good company nevertheless. I remember being impressed with Garri’s strength and energy as we lugged the timber half way up what felt like Cadair Idris at the time. I guess he must have been just over 60 even then. I was in my 30’s and couldn’t keep up!

David Pal, WRE…..When I moved to Mid Wales the local orienteering club to join was POW. At the time this was an acronym for Plynlimon Orienteers and Wayfarers and over the years since the name has changed on several occasions including for tactical reasons when applying for financial grants from the North Cardiganshire (or was it Ceredigion) Community Chest fund.

As POW had few members at that time I got to know Garri well. He always had several projects on the go and was usually juggling orienteering mapping/planning/controlling commitments along with caring for the horses he had with his partner Julie. Inevitably the project to renovate their property took a back seat except for the occasional burst of activity. Garri produced some excellent orienteering maps including Mynydd Cribau in North Wales which was used for a National Event many years ago. For such a big event he was involved in bringing three clubs together (POW, ERYRI and ODR) under the club name CAMBRIO to run what turned out to be a very successful event. Garri was also always greatly involved in the regular POWWOW events (POW Welsh Orienteering weekends).

I would visit him often to help with the current orienteering project and do recall a time in preparation for JK1998 which was based around Dolgellau. Garri had offered to put out some of the big ladder stiles that crossed landowners walls and I was happy to help. As usual Garri was busy when I met up with him, feeding his horses so we had a mad dash from Leighton across to Dolgellau in his somewhat battered Diahatsu Fortrak to collect the stiles. Then followed an off roading adventure on to the area (Dolgeldr) just North of Dolgellau in the Diahatsu trying to get as close to where the stiles should be placed. In the middle of nowhere we came across the landowner and Garri using his best Welsh had soon roped this farmer into help also making the job that much easier. If a job needed doing Garri would do it.

I am convinced that without Garri there would not be a Mid Wales Orienteering Club in its current form. He had a streak of determination to get things done (except his house renovation!). He would occasionally get frustrated or downhearted with a lack of progress with some task but just as quickly he would be back to a cheeky smile and laugh.

I will never forget Garri for all the kindness and friendship he showed to me.

Anne May, SLOW & WOA Secretary……I remember Garri and his “wife” from years ago, a very friendly couple.

Malcolm Kendrick, SBOC……Sad to hear of Garri passing away, as one who competed regularly against him in the same age class I offer my condolences to all his family; he will be sadly missed.

Kay and David Seward, SBOC……So sorry to hear this sad news. We would be grateful if you could pass on our sympathies to his family. Currently in NZ so we will be unable to make the funeral.

Ken Broad, WRE………I was privileged to get your note about Garri Owen. who I knew right back in his early days with Saxons OC and has been one of my favourite all-time orienteers since then.   I recall when he and Julie moved to Leighton on the Welsh border - coincidentally not far from my wife's cousin's house!   I lost touch with him when I retired from Ultrasport but remember his genial personality very well. 

Rod Postlethwaite, WRE……Thanks very much for letting me know the sad news about Garri. It’s quite some time since I last saw him but I always got on very well with him.

Colin and Judith, SWOC......We go back a long way with Garri Owen, he was in Colin's honours class at Aberystwyth.  We met up again some years later at the Capricorn and were close enough when he retired to Leighton, to begin his one man crusade to open up Mid Wales for orienteering, to become involved with his plans.  Although I was  the coordinator of Croeso 1996 and JK 1998, I could not have done it without Garri, his Welsh was invaluable for sorting out permissions.  We had many good times with Garri getting ready for major events, hauling kit and preparing assembly areas.  We visited him two days after his first hip operation, he promptly reached under the bed for his file and I found myself having a Croeso meeting.  He then hopped out of bed to get his exercises done, crutching along the corridor, he couldn't wait to get back in action again.  He blames Colin for finishing off his first hip when they ran the KIMM, where they were second on the vets handicap.

Bill Marlow


I'm very grateful to Saxons OC for the tribute below:-

Many of you will have reread the obituary of Garri Owen in CompassSport.  Garri was a member of Saxons in the 1980s.  Thanks to Bill Griffiths for sending these Saxons specific memories.  
In the early 1980’s a new member (a very energetic and enthusiastic Welsh orienteer) joined SAXONS.   Garri Owen had moved to Kent from Glan Conwy in Gwynedd to take up a lecturing job at Woolwich Polytechnic in Dartford.  He settled in Longfield and rapidly became a prominent member of Saxons.
His drive and zeal was immediately apparent and it was hardly a surprise that he became Club Chairman by 1984.
A visitor to his (large) home would have first spotted a huge grass covered knoll (2-3 m high) in his front garden  - the origin of which has long been forgotten, but Garri was keen to retain it.   Inside the house there always seemed to be more O equipment around than at the Club’s kit store (just relocated to Brambletye at Five Oak Green)… kites, punches, maps, banners, clipboards, lightboxes – it was all here.
As Chairman, Garri held monthly meetings on the upper floor of a (long demolished) pub in Square Hill Road in Maidstone.  These meetings were open to all members of the Club and a good turn-out was typical most months.  Meetings were meticulously planned and thoroughly executed with all aspects of the Club’s activities being reviewed.  Whilst the process was entirely democratic, Garri came to these meetings having planned exactly what he expected the outcome to be, researched and checked all the information in advance and generally achieved his objectives – often with some argument from members who had come a little less well prepared.
The Club progressed well under his leadership, holding many events and drawing new maps.  Garri was indeed a keen mapper, and (bearing in mind this was long before digital mapping) he surveyed and drew what is thought to be the first ever complete map of Bedgebury in 1987.
He was keen on Club trips to multi-day events and led Saxons groups to the JK, British and to overseas events like the Belgian 3 days.   He organised a minibus for the Club for one of the Belgian weekends, and shared the driving with Julie Fletcher.  Some of us had recovered from the experience by the end of the century!
He met his eventual partner Julie in Saxons, and when he finally left Kent around 1989 – heading back to Wales, no surprise that she went with him.
Garri Owen left a very positive and fruitful legacy with Saxons.  His energy was remarkable, his ideas boundless and hardly a surprise that one of the first things he did on returning to Wales was to set up an orienteering club in Powys.  
His death is a sad loss to the sport.
Bill Griffiths
Browsing old Saxons newsletters Editor has found the following accounts of Garri in SaxNews June 1986.   
“British Relays 1986 (extract)  About 40 Saxons travelled to the Forest of Dean for this event. The weather had been warm and sunny for a few days prior to the weekend, but as we neared Gloucestershire cold rain began and it was never far away all three days. The Forest of Dean is a very scenic, interesting area of undulating .woodlands with many visible reminders of old industries, mainly mining.  
The first day, the Double Gloster, was a National Event, though the map, with its large areas of green and consequent limited route choice, would not have suggested this. The event started disastrously for the Chairman, who, studying his map closely to decide whether to go right, left or over the top of the hill looming beyond the start lanes, was literally felled by the start triangle, suffering a resounding blow to the head. How this affected his subsequent performance I am not sure! Dorothy Hale.”
Further details can be gleaned from Alan Tough’s Editorial:-
“Our chairman has also been busy of, late, so Owens Own is this time taken up with a photographic appreciation of Garri’s running style. The main reason for his showing such good form in the shot (inset) is that he has recently achieved the status of “Headbanger 86”, an honorary title in recognition of his attempt to resuscitate the steel industry at the Forest of Dean.
As explained briefly by Dorothy Hale in her event report' Garri had an unfortunate tète-a- tète with the start triangle on Day l.  It was actually hung from a cast iron structure supporting a telegraph pole and in an attempt to gain 100% location accuracy, he headed straight for the control flag and ducked under the support. However, there were in fact two bars and you guessed it - he rose early and made solid contact with the second.  A loud clang (metal on metal perhaps?!) resounded across the start area and hundreds of eyes turned to see our leader slump to the ground, only to rise to his feet within seconds and head of into the forest|, apparently unscathed.”

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31st Jan 17  by Bill Marlow